Conservationists working to protect rare birds of prey claim they are being abused online and intimidated in the field by gamekeepers and supporters of the grouse shooting industry.
Logan Steele, communications secretary for the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), made up of conservationists working to protect rare birds of prey, told The Ferret that he is regularly contacted by workers who say they have been targeted in the line of their work.
Steele says members report incidents such as being surrounded by armed gamekeepers – often in 4x4s or on quad bikes – being followed for hours on end whilst out monitoring, being abused verbally, having tyres let down, having police called on them and even being spat at whilst drinking in the local pub.
He claims the intimidation is widespread, but most raptor workers are not prepared to go on record for fear of reprisals.
The SRSG, set up in 1980, has more than 350 voluntary members monitoring the vast majority of the 6,000 plus raptor territories checked annually as part of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme.
The scheme supplies data to organisations like the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), RSPB and NatureScot – the Scottish Government’s wildlife watchdog – to help understand population dynamics and inform conservation priorities. Members of SRSG also gather information on raptor persecution.
Gamekeepers have also previously claimed to be subjected to abuse. In a survey last November by the BASC, Countryside Alliance, Game Farmers Association and National Gamekeepers Organisation 64 per cent of Scottish gamekeepers said they had experienced threatening behaviour or abuse from members of the public at least once every year.
The study, which surveyed 152 gamekeepers, also found the majority (79 per cent) felt “less optimistic” due to “targeted anti-shooting campaigns and the negative portrayal of shooting in the public domain”.
But Steele said conservationists were suffering. He added: “Our members on some driven grouse moors continue to be subjected to persistent levels of intimidation and abuse from gamekeepers. It is patently clear that raptor workers and indeed the wider public are not always welcome on some driven grouse moors.”
Steele has himself been trolled online several times. “On one occasion an ex-gamekeeper boasted online that he had fitted a tracking device to my car and knew I was at home,” he said. Concerned that he was being followed he got the car checked over but no tracking devices were found.
An image Steele posted of himself online with a hen harrier chick in 2006 was allegedly downloaded and regularly reposted on two ex-gamekeeper’s social media pages along with claims accusing him of professional malpractice without evidence.
Consultant ecologist, Andrea Hudspeth – who along with Steel received an RSPB award in 2017 for raptor campaign work – claimed she also felt threatened on shooting estates.
She added: “I have been monitoring raptors on a grouse shooting estate for a number of years now and have always been made to feel unwelcome, so much so that I don’t feel safe going there on my own.
She claimed the experience could be intimidating. Of one estate she said: “Having phoned the day before to let the estate know I was coming, I was told where I could and couldn’t go as they were shooting foxes that day. He [the head gamekeeper] told me that if I strayed into the wrong area, it wouldn’t be his fault if I got shot. At the time, that sounded like a veiled threat.”
Targeted on grouse moors
Dr Ruth Tingay, an award-winning conservationist and director of Wild Justice, a not-for-profit organisation set up with broadcaster Chris Packham and environmental campaigner Mark Avery to “fight for wildlife in the courts and in the media”, told The Ferret she was subjected to online abuse on an almost daily basis.
Tingay, who runs the Raptor Persecution UK blog, claimed she received comments online that were routinely misogynistic and homophobic and involved personal slurs on her appearance and character.
“My personal telephone number has been published online and folk have been incited to make abusive phone calls. I have also received abusive text messages,” added Tingay.
“My home address has been published and shared on social media. Photographs of my home have been published and shared on social media. I have been followed and photographed on grouse moors and these have been published on social media with accompanying defamatory comments.
“I have been accused of fabricating evidence, of perverting the course of justice, of inflicting cruelty to wildlife, of killing eagles, of planting evidence, and conversely, and bizarrely, of withholding evidence from the police, of lying to the police, of lying to ministers, of lying to supporters, of lying in general.”
Tingay says the targeted harassment has been going on for the last six years and shows no sign of stopping. Earlier this week she was described by one shooter as “absolute poison” and another shooter opened a discussion titled: “Is Tingay a witch?”
“These individual comments are, of course, pathetic and laughable and are easy to shrug off, so obvious is the desperation behind them,” she said. “But it’s the accumulation of the comments, that’s when the problem starts.
“It’s relentless, and I think that’s very, very dangerous. That constant tide of abuse would take its toll on even the most resilient person. I’ve put measures in place to deal with it and I’m fortunate to be working with a world-class mental health coach. That’s not what I expected to need when I decided to work in the field of raptor conservation.”
However, Steele also insisted that most conservationists and grouse shooters, landowners, stalkers, ghillies and gamekeepers had a “very good working relationship”. He claimed those behind the abuse were trying to create a “false, them-and-us situation”.
“The issue really resides with a small number of driven grouse shooting businesses,” he added. “In recent years we have seen some estates beginning to moderate their attitudes to raptor persecution which is very encouraging.”
The Ferret contacted the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the landowners’ representative group Scottish Land and Estates and the Countryside Alliance. None of the organisations replied to requests for comment.
However Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg has previously said gamekeepers are currently being “undervalued” and called for action to be taken on the abuse they have faced.
Photo Credit: iStock/fox and butterfly